The shepherds of the mad sheep refuse to die quietly.
MBC, which retracted its misleading report linking U.S. beef to mad cow disease under court order and apologized to its viewers, is now appealing that order. So if it’s now beyond serious dispute that the original report misled viewers with sloppy translations, bad science, and images of people and cows infected with other diseases, why is MBC now trying to retract its retraction?
The MBC labor union has fiercely criticized the management’s decision for “surrendering to the Lee Myung-bak administration. Angry at their employer for having made the apology, union members strongly pressured the management to challenge the court ruling. The MBC labor union said Monday that it would begin a movement to oust the management and refuse to produce programs if an appeal is not filed. [Joongang Ilbo]
Ah. Now I see.
Korea’s news media unions have a history of leaning hard to the left, and they’re not above expanding beyond collective bargaining to pressuring the content of programming. In 2004, for example, MBC’s union joined the National Union of Media Workers, which represents KBS workers, in attempting to prevent broadcasters from airing a debate between conservative opposition candidates. I believe this was the NUMW’s low point; as you read it, bear in mind that at the time, the opposition Grand National Party was out of power in the executive branch and a minority in the National Assembly:
But at the conclusion of the meeting, about 10 members of the KBS labor union lined up in front of the meeting room and asked the GNP to stop “˜the suppression of the press.’ “The huge opposition stop oppressing the press!” they shouted. Some members broke into the meeting room and yelled at GNP lawmakers, “Our meeting with the management has been delayed for more than one hour because you came without a prior appointment. Finish your conversation quickly and come back!”
Angered by them, Rep. Kim Moon-soo, a former labor activist, [OFK links here and here] protested, “We did not invade here nor are we making a disturbance. We were just talking quietly with your vice president. I myself was a labor union member but I was not like you now. Then, a labor unionist said, “The party that impeached the president came here. How can you say it isn’t oppression?” Leaving the KBS building with bitter emotions, Rep. Lee murmured to himself, “I feel so pathetic to be an opposition lawmaker. I bet a dog would get better treatment than I received. [Chosun Ilbo]
It’s not clear whether MBC’s workers are represented by the NUMW. Neither union appears to be an affiliate of the ultra-radical Korea Confederation of Trade Unions, though they’ve found common ground with the KCTU and all of the usual suspects in opposing the U.S.-Korea FTA. That happens to be the very issue for which MBC and KBS sacrificed their objectivity and journalistic integrity.
Predictably enough, the NUMW is vocally opposing Lee MB’s efforts to replace the left-leaning leaders of the government broadcast networks appointed by Lee’s left-wing predecessor, Roh Moo Hyun. In other words, they wish to sack those responsible for sacking the people who have just been sacked.
Meanwhile, a government slander action against MBC continues.
If you value freedom of speech and the press, you can’t like the idea of any government institution mandating or regulating the content of the news, or even making the news media subject to a political spoils system. It’s the same reason the “fairness doctrine” is such a danger to free speech here.
The problem with the unions’ argument is that Lee isn’t the one who started this. The fact that they happen to be right on principle does little to disguise their disingenuousness. And once you see just how invested the North Koreans are in keeping the mad cow issue alive — even when the factual basis for that issue is demonstrably false — you can’t deny that such rank, and perhaps even anti-democratic, manipulation might be an even greater threat to democracy.
The question begged is why democracies should be in the business of owning the media or controlling their content at all.